Conversation: Geena Davis Hopes to Shift Gender Balance in Film

BY Lauren Knapp  May 20, 2011 at 2:29 PM EST

Geena Davis has some experience with strong and complex female characters. She’s played a meek-housewife-turned-bold-woman-on-the-run, a baseball star, a secret agent and an American president. In fact, she says it was her experience playing Thelma in “Thelma and Louise” that first piqued her interest in the cause.

“To see the reaction of people to that film was a really educational and eye-opening experience,” Davis told the PBS NewsHour in a recent interview.

Davis spoke with Simon Marks at the PBS Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Over the years, Davis has backed her words with actions. In 2006, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media with the goal of researching gender representation in popular film and television. Since the institution’s founding, it discovered that for every one female character, there are three male characters. In fact, Davis says if gender equity is your criteria for seeing a film, then you would only see 7 percent of box office hits.

Her latest endeavor takes a proactive approach to the issue. She’s teamed up with ITVS for a public media initiative called ‘Women and Girls Lead.’ It’s a three-year project that that seeks to “focus, educate and connect citizens worldwide in support of the issues facing women and girls” through documentary film, television, new media and global outreach. Davis serves on the advisory board for the initiative and narrates one of the premier documentaries in the five-part series, ‘Women, War & Peace.’

“Seeing positive images, seeing female characters playing roles that are non-traditional,” said Davis, “will help girls grow up to seek more interesting and out of the box occupations as an adult.”